What’s Sex Got to Do With… The Cosby Show?

Over the past two decades, The Cosby Show has become a staple in cultural discourse about family life and, by extension, how minorities are represented on television. One of the strongest characters to emerge from the show was Cliff Huxtable’s wife, Clair Huxtable. A lawyer, business woman, wife, and mother, Clair is characterized both as being strong and goal oriented, while at the same time, matronly and devoted.

The following clip shows Clair adhering to conventional gender roles, much to the surprise of Elvin.

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What’s Sex Got To Do With…. Brad Paisley?

I want to look at a song from Brad Paisley 2007 album 5th Gear called “I’m Still A Guy.”

Now I’m always a sucker for a waltz (ONE two three, ONE two three), but there’s too much going on in that song for me now to just tap a foot and sing along the way I did back when I first heard it in middle school.

The two ideas we’ve talked about in class that I want to relate to this video are hyper-masculinity and compulsory heterosexuality. By hyper-masculinity I mean seeking validity through excessive shows of masculinity to separate oneself from the un-masculine other. By compulsory heterosexuality I mean all the different social forces that reward heterosexual behavior and marginalize other gender expressions.

The lyrics to “I’m Still A Guy” exhibit both of these problems. That said, I think it would be easy to throw a harsh condemnation at this song that it doesn’t necessarily deserve, so I want to sort out exactly what I think is wrong with it and separate that from the parts that I think are OK.

Up until the last verse, the song seems mostly acceptable. I read this as a good-natured ha-ha reflection on the tension heterosexual couples often encounter because of gender differences. I don’t see anything disparaging other gender identities, no moral legislation about sexual expression, no celebration of male dominance. To me there’s nothing inherently wrong with a member of the hegemonic gender identity expressing himself through his maleness. He’s just talking about who he is.

The problematic lines are these:

These days there’s dudes getting facials
Manicured, waxed and botoxed
With deep spray-on tans and creamy lotiony hands
You can’t grip a tacklebox

With all of these men lining up to get neutered
It’s hip now to be feminized
I don’t highlight my hair
I’ve still got a pair
Yeah honey, I’m still a guy

Oh my eyebrows ain’t plucked
There’s a gun in my truck
Oh thank God, I’m still a guy

Now I’ve got a problem with him. He’s disparaging feminine behavior in men. Granted he probably thought it was in good fun and didn’t write this song to marginalize anyone, but those lines take a clear shot at men who don’t conform to behavioral gender expectations. There’s nothing wrong with highlighting your hair, being feminized, getting facials, or using hand lotion. That’s an example of him playing into the system that enforces compulsory heterosexuality. Even worse, he goes to boast about all his masculine credentials that distinguish him from all these feminized hand lotion users. Hyper-masculinity = totally un-groovy.

At the end of the day, I still am an unrepentant Brad Paisley fan, but does that make me a hypocrite? How do you find the balance between holding people accountable for objectionable content and forgiving people who legitimately don’t know any better? After all, I doubt Paisley ever had the chance to take a gender studies class…